Covid-19 tracking app risks further Government privacy intrusions, Amnesty says
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Amnesty International has warned that the Covid-19 tracking app risks opening the door to “pervasive state surveillance and privacy infringement”.
The UK has been developing an app that uses Bluetooth technology to determine when other app users are in close enough proximity to potentially spread the virus.
Users who contract it can inform the app, at which point people who have come into close contact with them will be notified.
But unlike many European countries, the UK has elected for a centralised model in which data is stored and operations are performed on a central server, rather than on individuals’ phones.
The director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, said she was “extremely concerned” about these plans and believes it could enable further state intrusion “with potentially discriminatory effects”.
“Ministers should instead be examining decentralised, privacy-preserving models such as those many European governments are pursuing,” she added.
“In these extraordinary times, contract-tracing apps and other technology could potentially be useful tools in responding to Covid-19, but our privacy and rights must not become another casualty of the virus.
“Contract-tracing apps must always be voluntary and without incentives or penalties.”
Last week, the international charity released data showing a lack of public confidence in how the Government is responding to the crisis.
Amnesty’s poll revealed that more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of the UK public felt the Government had not been fully transparent in its communications in respect of the crisis.
NHSX, the app’s developer, has insisted the NHS and the app asks only for the first half of a user’s postcode, all data in the app is anonymous and does not leave a user’s phone until they volunteer to share it with the NHS.
Yesterday, health secretary Matt Hancock urged the public to download it in order to “save lives”.
The app is launching on a trial basis for some key workers in the Isle of Wight today. But Hancock urged residents on the island not to relax social distancing measures due to its rollout.
He said: “I can reassure you that there aren’t any changes to social distancing measures that are proposed as part of this pilot.
“The pilot is to find out how the app works.”
The software will be tested on the island in part due to a lower number of new infections, the fact that it is covered by a single NHS trust, and also because travel on and off the island is quite restricted.
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